Album Review: Tyler, the Creator – IGOR
Print Editor Aaron Loose reviews Tyler, The Creator’s latest album.
If Tyler Okonma added painting to his hobbies, I can imagine him liking watercolours best. The way diluted dyes blur into each other to create beautifully unexpected tonalities mirrors the Odd Future graduate’s own hybrid songwriting. What is ‘Yonkers’ other than a Frankensteinian hybrid of New York hardcore and nerdy teenage confessional?
Still, trying his hand at yet another medium might be a hustle too many. Since 2017’s sunlit revelation Flower Boy, Tyler seemed to be interested in almost anything other than rapping. There were other projects, like promoting his blossoming streetwear label, Golf Wang, or watching alt-rap titans Kid Cudi and Kanye headline the music festival he started in a car park back in 2012.
The sudden arrival of IGOR, his sixth and perhaps best album, is more than welcome. It’s a portrait of obsessive romance, daubed in pastel tones and perfumed with delicate yearning. If Flower Boy was a sculpted homage to Pharrell’s perfectionist pop, IGOR channels Blood Orange’s Freetown Sound or Solange’s When I Get Home, painterly sonic art installations where aromatic soul and R&B melodies are unhooked from a verse-chorus scaffolding and invited to float in unexpected directions.
It’s a portrait of obsessive romance, daubed in pastel tones and perfumed with delicate yearning
The result is an album that doesn’t sound like any other contemporary hip-hop record. For starters, there is little rapping. Instead, Tyler rasps like a karaoke Barry White, and his strained vocals are mixed beneath licking synths and chugging Afropop rhythms. Goblin nostalgiacs will miss a straightforward hip-hop cut like ‘Radicals’, although the hardcore swirl of Freudian rage and Erykah Badu references on ‘NEW MAGIC WAND’ might satisfy. In truth, IGOR sounds like the artist Tyler was always trying to become; sensitive, assured, and wise enough to know that a relationship doesn’t need to last to be worthwhile.
In a 2017 interview with comedian Jerrod Carmichael, Tyler admitted to pitch-shifting his vocals until he struggled to identify his own rapping parts. Hearing himself speak felt too vulnerable. But this time is different. Instead of swaddling himself in a safety blanket of distortion, Tyler modulates his pitch to extend the awkward wobbles of an untrained singing voice. Listen to ‘EARFQUAKE’, the lovesick torch song rejected by Justin Bieber. Tyler’s bleating performance is perfect. When he begs ‘Don’t leave, it’s my fault/ When it all comes crashing down, I’ll need you’, his baritone flattens into a shrill whine, as if buckling beneath the weight of his grief.
IGOR sounds like the artist Tyler was always trying to become; sensitive, assured, and wise enough to know that a relationship doesn’t Have to last to be worthwhile
Part of the pleasure of listening to IGOR is hearing Tyler’s prodigious skills as a producer climb to a new league of musical dexterity. ‘I THINK’ twists a sample of Nigerian funk singer Nkono Teles’s ‘Get Down’ into a candied electropop banger about not having the words to tell someone they have captured your heart. Thumping drums march beneath guest star Solange’s heavenly melisma before dropping out entirely as the song collapses into a lovely coda of jazzy piano chords.
IGOR doesn’t exactly recreate Solange’s earthy philosophy of communal creation. Whereas impresarios like Charli XCX and A$AP Rocky welcome their features like star turns, Tyler is an auteur who cuts records like a filmmaker, sculpting his lovelorn beats until every hi-hat and vocal sample fit together like the interlocking innards of a polished pocket watch. It’s not accidental that the tracklisting leaves his various collaborators unnamed. Outside voices are sprinkled into the mixes like seasoning, adding spice and texture to an intensely doleful vision.
Grungy floor filler ‘WHAT’S GOOD’ divines sinister ambience from what sounds like a whispering slowthai, although you could easily mistake the Northampton MC for a session player, which is the point. Not even a bona fide superstar like Playboi Carti holds the spotlight for long. The mumble rapper’s pleghmy verse lasts just long enough to secure ‘EARFQUAKE’ rotation on hip-hop radio, and besides, tinkering Tyler would rather obsess over the spine-tingling clang of an ascending chord progression than chase streaming figures.
The beats certainly sound burnished. ‘GONE GONE / THANK YOU’ is less breakup song than a breakaway dance track, a late-album high point carried by an effervescent instrumental of chittering guitars that feel as foamy and sweet as a lavender bubble bath.
IGOR ends on unresolved notes, paddling in the shallow water between one romance and the next. It’s where Tyler does his finest work
But don’t be fooled by the sugary multi-tracked Cee-Lo chorus; bitterness flavours these aromatic ballads like squirts of lemon juice. During the same song, Tyler mutters to his ex-lover “Could play a couple of songs that you could dance to/ I hope you know she can’t compete with me”, the sort of petty insult that hurt people throw to make themselves feel less unwanted.
To assume IGOR is an autobiographical sound diary is a mistake. The details are hazy, for one, and I think Tyler has shed Goblin‘s cartoonish shock journaling for more impressionistic songcraft. He certainly sounds vulnerable. Soulful belter ‘ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?’ sounds manufactured to finish a festival set, but it’s not a closer, nor a final songwriterly brushstroke that resolves all that came before. IGOR ends on unresolved notes, paddling in the shallow water between one romance and the next. It’s where Tyler does his finest work.